How to Help a Family With a Child Affected by Mental Illness


Families with a child affected by a mental or neurological disorder sometimes live a chaotic and stress-filled existence. Often, the struggle is invisible to the public. Unknown to even neighbors, a series of chronic storms may erupt inside the home. Furthermore, stigmas make seeking support challenging. Parents struggle to give time to all of their children as well as their marriage. Siblings may resent the extra attention to the affected child. It is all too easy for a fracture to take place and the results to each member can have short and long-term consequences.

You want to help, but how do you do it? Here is a list of suggestions that can get you started.

1. Food.

Food connects us. But good news: you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to share it. How about ordering a pizza? One of the best dinners shared with us was ham and cheese sliders that we could warm up and grab quickly on our way to the hospital. Truthfully, anything that offers a quick bit of nutrition and satisfies us feeds the stomach and the soul. Always make sure you are aware of any food restrictions (especially true if the child has a sensory issue).

2. Gift cards.

Medical bills quickly consume a budget. Sure, there are payment plans, but when you have at least a few going, there is not much left for any extras. In addition, schedules can become packed with doctors appointments and unexpected health-related crises. Furthermore, siblings often feel left behind as time and money are consumed quickly. Special family outings often disappear. Gift cards for a movie theater, McDonald’s and other “extras” are an appreciated treat. Gas cards are also beneficial.

3. Offer to take siblings for a few hours.

Respite is necessary for all family members. Routines often become interrupted, noise levels escalate, conflict can be frequent. These factors contribute to a stressful environment. Can you offer your home as a quiet place of refuge? Renting a movie, supplying snacks, sharing skills or even letting kids play on their electronic devices or read in a peaceful place is a gift. If you are more adventurous, try a park, ice skating or the beach.

4. Care for the affected child.

This suggestion requires a familiarity with the child and their needs. Sometimes a new environment can be helpful. Other times, it may create further anxiety. If you can provide this option, it sends an affirming message to the child that they are capable of being loved by those outside their family. To the parents, it sends an empathetic message.

5. Put together a gift basket.

Parents naturally tend to invest their time, energy and resources toward the health of their child. As a result, they are left “empty.” This affects their own emotional and physical well-being. It also leads to strained marriages. How about a gift basket filled with bubble bath, hand lotion, special treats, rental movie gift card, coffee shop gift card, teas and a bottle of wine? Put on your creative hat and see what happens!

6. Share resources.

Let’s face it: receiving money from others can be awkward. Yet, it may be the very thing that would help alleviate stress. Could you ask to pay a bill? Could you pay for a sitter? There are creative ways to share financially while not taking away dignity or creating an uncomfortable situation.

When a child fights a physical illness, it often leads to a rally of support. The visible symptoms communicate the urgency of support to others. Unfortunately, mental illness, addiction and neurological disorders do not always present in a way that draws attention. The family struggles silently. When we are aware of others’ needs, we become better advocates and neighbors, and we are transformed in the process.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Mental Health

A woman flipping her hair

Figuring Out How to Live Again After a Manic Episode

I don’t want this story to be a dark one, but I don’t want it to be dishonest either. I have been released from a psychiatric hospital where I stayed for over 40 days a few weeks ago. I had to withdraw from a semester worth of classes of a masters degree that I genuinely [...]
A woman holding a capsule pill

I’m Bipolar and I’d Take That Pill

Editor’s note: This piece is a response to “I’m Bipolar and I Don’t Want to Be Cured” by Rudy Caseres.  I read a story recently by Mighty contributor, Rudy Caseres, who said bipolar was part of his identity, and if there was  a “cure” or a pill that could rid him of his bipolar disorder, he wouldn’t [...]

The Hardest Part of ‘Spring Mania’ to Recover From

The world is breathtaking as new life springs up all around us during this time of year. It feels like one day I wake up and everything is lush and green, and there are buds and blooms abound. I get excited and full of energy. It’s this energy and great mood that also, for me, [...]
young woman lying in bed on phone

4 Easy Tips to Manage a Mild Manic Bipolar Episode

It’s a weeknight and I just called 12 different people. I wasn’t at a phone bank. I was reaching out to loved ones in an effort to both connect and distract myself from… myself. I’m in the second week of terrible sleep, tossing and turning every night, but I’m not tired. Even though it is [...]